Career Builder & Giveaway: Ron Koertge

Candlewick, 2012

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Ron Koertge is the author of a dozen or more books for young readers. Most of his novels are ALA choices and two (Strays (2007) and Stoner & Spaz (2002), both Candlewick) are PEN prize winners.

He is also an accomplished poet with grants from the NEA and the California Arts Council. His most recent books of poems, both from Red Hen Press, are Fever (2006) and Indigo (2009).

An instructor in Hamline University’s low-residency MFA program (Writing for Children & Young Adults), he lives in South Pasadena, California, with his wife Bianca Richards.

Would you describe your career as a hike up a mountain, a winding road, a path of hills and valleys or hop-scotching from rock to rock across the rapids? Why?

Clearly, I’m jumping from one rock to another. I’ve been a poet all my life.

When I was forty (that’s about thirty years ago!) I put poetry aside for awhile and jumped to a novel for adults (The Boogeyman (1980)). From that I tried YA (Where the Kissing Never Stops (Candlewick, 2005)), wrote a few of those, then tried a novel-in-verse (The Brimstone Journals (Candlewick, 2001)). Boy Girl Boy (Graphia, 2005) was an experiment in POV, Margaux with an X (Candlewick, 2004) a foray into vocabulary and attitude.

I bore easily and am restless by nature.

Did you ever consider giving up? What happened? What kept you going?

Photo by Sonya Sones

I write every day, so giving up never occurs to me. I’m so used to writing badly (anybody who writes a lot has days when nothing is working) that I shrug it off and assume I’ll do better next time.

I like the medium. I enjoy working with language like painters enjoy paint and canvas. Not for the picture as much as just the materials. So not for the poem or story so much as just bossing some nouns around.

Where do you want to go from here? What are your short- and long-term goals? Your strategies for achieving them?

My strategy for achieving both long and short-term goals is to stay alive. I don’t have the time that younger writers have. I don’t feel a tremendous sense of urgency; I’m just realistic.

Writing regularly is, for me, the best revenge.

I’m not sure what I’ll write next, and I’m interested in finding out.

What advice do you have for the debut authors of 2012?

Buddy the poetry cat

I remember being a debut author and how terrific it felt to see a book with my name on it.

Although I followed my first YA (Where the Kissing Never Stops) with another that was about a boy-girl relationship (The Arizona Kid (Candlewick, 2005)), I wish I’d tried something that baffled and frustrated me more.

I’ve advised my MFA students to write something very different for their second novel. A lot of them have said what a relief it is not to have to “do that again.” A historical novelist, for example, turned to fantasy. A fan of dystopia going for something much lighter-hearted.

The Brimstone Journals was my first novel-in-verse, and it was, in fact, a relief not to write margin-to-margin prose. Not only did that book attract new readers, it gave me another way to look at fiction and it made me a better teacher when it came to working with other novelists-in-verse since I’d struggled with the verse-part just like they had.

Ron’s studio desk

Cynsational Giveaways

#1 Enter to win a first chapter critique (up to 15 pages) by Ron Koertge. Response will be via notes or phone call (not Skype). Turnaround time will be less than a week. Eligibility: international.

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#2 Enter to win one of two sets of Ron’s bestselling books, including hardcover copies of Knives, Lies and Girls in Red Dresses (2012), hot off the presses! Winners will also receive Koertge’s bestselling Stoner and Spaz (2011) in paperback, the sequel, Now Playing: Stoner and Spaz II (2011) in hardcover, and The Arizona Kid (2005) in paperback. This giveaway is courtesy Ron’s publisher, Candlewick Press. Eligibility: U.S. and Canada.

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Cynsational Notes  

The Career Builders series
offers insights from children’s-YA authors who written and published
books for a decade or more. The focus includes their approach to both
the craft of writing and navigating the ever-changing business landscape
of trade publishing. 

13 thoughts on “Career Builder & Giveaway: Ron Koertge

  1. I meant to grab a copy of this book at Hamline last week but since my brain was about the size of a walnut, alas I did not.

  2. Hi Cynthia, I am unable to log in either way, is there a technical problem with the form? Don't want to miss this awesome giveaway…


  3. I love the idea of switching genres to keep the ideas flowing. I wrote a narrative nonfiction for middle grade that got some great feedback and even won a grant, but I have not found a publisher for it. Rather than continue to tweak the dead horse, I moved on to a fiction project. It has been very liberating.

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